Follow the thread: The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation reminds us that women now make up half the workforce. And are breadwinners or co-breadwinners in 63 percent of families.

The report also reminds us that a lot of policy has not kept up with the definitive end of “separate spheres” and the caregiver/provider model of families. We all do market work, and we all need to find ways to care for our families, our children, and ourselves.

The report reminds us that now, more than ever before, we all need family friendly and more humane work policies. That issues like good (secure) jobs, adequate, affordable, and just health care, paid vacation, paid sick days, child care, and family leave aren’t women’s issues at all. They are human issues. They are workers’ issues.

How to get there? The word of the 1960s was plastics. The word for 2010 is unions. We don’t even have to invent them. They already exist. And they are changing. And there is opportunity just up ahead to help them change more.

A Center for Economic and Policy Research report released today, The Changing Face of Labor 1983-2008, documents that “over the last quarter century, the unionized workforce has changed dramatically…. In 2008, union workers reflected trends in the workforce as a whole toward a greater share of women, Latinos, Asian Pacific Americans, older, more-educated workers, and a shift out of manufacturing toward services.”

As reported in the Associated Press this afternoon, “Women are on track to become a majority of unionized workers in the next 10 years, signaling their growing clout in the labor movement.” Women make of 45 percent of union membership–up from 35 percent in 1983, according to CEPR’s report.

Lead author, CEPR senior economist John Schmitt, connects the dots: “When you have a majority of women in the labor movement, issues like work-family balance, paid sick days and paid parental leave become more important.”

And Change to Win head Anna Burger makes the message concrete:According to AP, Burger says, “Because of women, we don’t just talk about raising wages, but about creating family friendly workplaces with sick leave, child care, and family and medical leave. We don’t just talk about out-of-control insurance costs, but about the fact that women pay more than men strictly because of their gender.”

(Change to Win is a federation of five unions: Teamsters, Laborers International Union of North America (LiUNA), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), United Farm Workers (UFW), and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). The AP article also interviews secretary-treasurer of  the AFL-CIO Liz Shuler.)

The hype is about how women will benefit unions–by bringing traditional women’s issues that are really about the well being of all of us into the mainstream. For more on how unions actually benefit women–in terms of wages, pensions, and health insurance–read this interview with John Schmitt from last year.

Next thread: EFCA (The Employee Free Choice Act). That’s how to turn the benefits that women bring to the union movement into benefits for all. Bring us some more good news, ya’ll.

Virginia Rutter